Nduduzo Makhathini ‘Listening to the Ground’ CD/Dig (Gundu Entertainment) 4/5

nduduzo-makhathiniIn 2014 Jazzman Records brought contemporary South African Jazz to a wider audience through the release of Tumi Mogorosi’s Project Elo album.
This album introduced me to the talents of some fascinating musicians, including Nduduzo Makhathini, who helped produce the set.
Fast forward a year to an interview Nat Birchall gave to the Band on the Wall website in which he gave props to a number of South African musicians including Nduduzo Makhathini. Being a curious sort I did some research; just at the right time it seems as ‘Listening to the Ground’ (his third album) had just been released.
Nduduzo won Standard Bank Young Jazz Artist for 2015. As a young musician he played with the likes of Zim Ngqawana and Feya Faku, artists with little profile outside of South Africa, but legends in their own scene. Other influences stylistically are Bheki Mseleku and McCoy Tyner.
His musical journey is a spiritual one. At the age of 13 he received the gift of healing from his ancestors, and in early adulthood determined to use this gift through his music.
‘Listening to the Ground’ is a two-disc set comprising 16 songs in total. The core group comprises Nduduzo (piano), Magne Thormosæter (double bass), Ayanda Sikade (drums) and Karl-Martin Almqvist (tenor/soprano sax and flute). There are also contributions from Robin Fassie Kock (trumpet and flugelhorn), Sophie Ribstein (harp), El Hadj Ngari Ndong and Mabaleng Moholo (percussion), choir and Nduduzo’s wife, Omagugu, on vocals.

South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Senegal and France are represented musically.

The mix of instruments is bound to draw comparisons to Matthew Halsall’s work and whilst it’s true that they both create broad, evocative soundscapes, the results are quite different.

Where this album is at its best is where the mood is most overtly spiritual. The first CD starts with ‘Same Mother’, a track with a brooding opening before throwing itself in to a sweet mid-tempo showcase of the band’s, and in particular Nduduzo’s, chops.

CD one ends with probably my favourite track, ‘Thokoza’, the Zulu word for Rejoice. This is an invocation to the ancestors through a blissful mix of choir, swirling harp, percussion alongside piano and sax.

The closest to late period Coltrane comes in ‘Supreme Light’, the opener on the second CD. There is a strong interplay between Nduduzo and Karl-Martin, although I can’t help but feel that the tune had more energy in it than the recording delivers. One to hear live I think.

‘Miss New Day’ is an uplifting track, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Strata East release.

The rest of the album is not quite as memorable, although it’s pleasant enough. There are a number of fairly straight vocal tracks, the best of which is ‘Rejoice’. There are also a couple of blues and tracks influenced by Nduduzo’s time in Nigeria. None of these really captures the imagination as well as the tunes I have highlighted.

Here’s hoping that a wider worldwide audience gets to hear his music.

Andy Hazell